Bertie Commissioners save health and wellness program

Published 2:27 pm Saturday, September 26, 2009

WINDSOR – Some of Bertie County’s senior citizens came seeking help.

They found it.

Monday night during the regular meeting of the Bertie County Commissioners, a group of senior citizens came seeking help in saving a health and wellness program that has been active in the county for 20 years.

“As you probably already know, the budget crisis in North Carolina has caused the elimination of Community Service Support grants,” said Mary Davis, a spokesperson for the group. “A portion of those grants, through Martin Community College and Roanoke Chowan Community College, funded the Health and Wellness program in its entirety. With those grants no longer available, the entire program is in serious jeopardy.”

Davis said the senior citizens were asking the county to help them keep the program going.

“These seniors have shouldered much of the financial burdens of the county for decades,” she said. “They now ask you, as their elected representatives, to assist them in retaining a program that has become vital to their health and well-being.”

The program has two locations, in Windsor and in Colerain. The Windsor location was funded by grants through Martin Community College and the one in Colerain was funded by a grant through RCCC.

The estimated cost of the program is approximately $9,000 per year, but Davis said those funds were well worth the expenditure.

“The total cost to continue Health and Wellness is $750 per month and, in all likelihood, that amount is only a fraction of what it saves the county in additional health costs,” Davis stressed.

The spokesperson also said the seniors were willing to help with the costs as much as possible, but that some of them could not afford even a token amount.

“It would be a disaster for them to have to leave the program because they had to choose between it and other necessities,” Davis said. “Therefore, to be blunt, your assistance is vital. We ask you for your serious and thoughtful consideration.”

Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb said he had become aware of the situation through telephone calls from some commissioners who were concerned.

“My estimate was about $9,000 or $10,000 per year,” Lamb said. “That is in line with the figure they have given you.”

Lamb said the situation was one that had become all too common with local officials trying to pick up expenditures the state had declined to pay.

“This is another example of the state withdrawing funding and leaving it on the local government,” he said. “Eventually these unfunded mandates will leave the commissioners, who haven’t raised taxes in nine years, with no choice but to look at that possibility.”

Lamb said the board was, however, concerned about the program.

He also said if the county took over the funding of the program, it would likely need to be moved from the Bertie Council on Aging to the Bertie County Recreation Department for administrative purposes only. The decision was made to research the program and make sure that was possible.

After the discussion, Commissioner J. Wallace Perry made the motion to provide $9,000 in funding for the health and wellness classes with Commissioner Rick Harrell offering a second. It passed by a unanimous vote.

As the group offered their thanks to the board, Commissioner Charles Smith reminded them they had friends sitting there.

“You should have known when you walked in and saw that three of us were senior citizens, you were okay,” Smith said.

Several of the seniors took time to personally thank the board before they left the meeting.